This morning our cat caught a bird. This was not an unusual occurrence as he is a formidible hunter and does not discriminate. We have found, at various times, parts of mice, lizards, snakes, gophers and birds on our back patio. The weird part is his surgical precision in removing the entrails from his trophies. The whole bird was left this time, minus the heart. “Sweet Jesus, Everett, they took his heart!” But he is an animal after all, and they do eat each other, given the chance.
Somewhere along the line of history, we humans decided it is not okay to eat each other, that cannibalism should not be a philosophical choice. Where and when this occurred I do not know, but I am sure it was well before the first Hannibal Lechter movie came out. I am also unsure whether this was a gradual process, such as the backlash against smoking (the Surgeon General warns that cannibalism can lead to low birth weight), or if it was one of those epiphanies where mankind slapped its collective self on the forehead and said, “You know, eating your Uncle Tony is not polite”. We stopped eating each other, and decided that sacrificing ourselves to the gods was counter-productive as well. So we turned on our friends in the animal kingdom.
I don’t know how it came to be that offals (and what a perfect, if misspelled, name that is!) like Sweetbreads were considered a delicacy; or how it was discovered that liver was good with bacon, but I am happier for it. However it occurred, we do eat some very strange things in restaurants. We are eating straight fat (lardo, another perfect name!), fat back (just add in “hairy” and this would be perfect, too), beef cheeks (from the face as well as the other end), shanks, ribs, knuckles, feet, tongues, kidneys, brains, and stomachs. And that’s just at the taco truck. I have seen Pork Blood Jelly on menus at Chinese restaurants and of course the ever-popular tripe at Italian and Mexican restaurants.
We have decided that it is not only okay to eat animals, but we have to eat each and every part of them. This idea probably stems from the early Caveman’s philosophy that using every part of the animal was economical. Killing a Mastadon is a bitch of a lot of work and we might not get to do it again for a while, so sit up straight and finish your hooves.
The vegetable kingdom is not without its “how the hell did they figure out you could eat this?” foods either. Jerusalem artichokes (a somewhat less than perfect name) are a puzzler. They grow deep in the ground, have a shape that makes peeling unbelievably difficult, and you have to have a hundred of the little bastards just to make a bowl of soup. Hearts of Palm, that staple of mediocre Country Club lunch menus everywhere, is really just that: the heart of a palm tree. It was probably a guy with a seafood allergy stranded on a desert island that figured that one out. And Tapioca: it’s made from the cassava root which is basically poisonous unless cooked well enough to remove the toxins. How many dead Sous-Chefs did it take to perfect that technique? “Eh? Henri ese dead? Vee vill need to kook it more, no?” Salsify is a root vegetable that is so face-twistingly bitter coming out of the ground that it has to be cooked several times in milk or some other liquid to make it palatable; and the trendy new vegetable item at haute cuisine places is purslane, or red amaranth. It’s a weed, people. After the constant battle I wage with this invasive, prolific gardener’s bane, I can almost understand the satisfaction derived from eating it. If it had guts, I’d go spit them out in the melon patch, like my cat with his bird parts. Take that, bitches, and don’t let me see you around here again!